Arriving at Jock McFadyen Goes to the Pictures is a bit like arriving at a birthday party where you never know who you might strike up a connection with or what might happen next. Its playful rebellion is thoughtful and unpretentious and a fascinating 70th birthday celebration of London-based, Paisley-born artist Jock McFadyen.
Over the course of a year, McFadyen was let loose among Edinburgh’s City Art Centre permanent collection to pick works to pair next to his own. Some of his artworks on display are new and others span his artistic career of over 40 years.
McFadyen was co-ordinator at last year’s Royal Academy summer exhibition in London. He has co-ordinated this exhibition to ensure that each section makes us pause to think about the connections we make, from immediate to fleeting and onto a deeper, subtler level.
His works – and their curious juxtapositions – take up two floors of the City Art Centre. McFadyen brings eclecticism to the exhibition as both artist and curator. Each pairing makes you stop and ponder both works in unexpected ways to find the connection, sometimes obvious and sometimes more subtle. It is in this spirit of freedom that you can find a new connection or relationship to both the artworks in each pairing.
McFadyen chose several artists from the city’s collection, including Wilhelmina Barnes Graham, John Bellany, Francis Cadell, Thomas Begbie (b/w photo prints), Robert MacBryde, Callum Innes and Joan Eardley – July Fields (c1961), Summer Grasses and Barley (1962).
McFadyen’s Brandenburg Gate (1991) sits alongside John Bellany’s Bêche-de-Mer (1984). Francis Cadell’s Iona (c1912-1937) is shown alongside McFadyen’s Uist (2011) – similar candy tones but you may find other connections. McFadyen’s Calton Hill 3 (2014) is a monumental and powerful artwork paired with Aerie (2011) by Lizzie Farey, a moon made from willow on a similar scale. McFadyen’s Showcase Cinemas (2006) sits comfortably next to Philip Braham’s The Forest Edge, Augustowska (2001).
There are portraits with similar expressions – photographic elements appear in a juxtaposed painting, echoes in the way flowers are painted, sometimes it’s the subject (a landscape or portrait), or colours, or tones, or shapes, or composition, or a small detail, or a pattern (stripes on Newhaven fishwives vs. the stripes on a mechanic’s top).
“Art historians do deep focus. An entire career can be made in late 17th century Dutch still life or even the work of a single artist. But we artists are different. We are like magpies, we hover over the whole of art history as if it were a scrapyard, and swoop down to steal something attractive we can use before dropping it moments later like litter: a bit of surrealism here or a Russian icon there” – Jock McFadyen’s introduction to the exhibition.
You can’t help but begin to look for comparisons and connections within McFadyen’s own body of work, time-travelling from the urban portraits painted on board to cityscapes, to landscapes inspired by his set-designs in the early 1990s, to the textured sculptural works and all the experimental adventures in between. There’s a fresh experience with each new meeting of artwork pairings. And, much like at a birthday party, you are drawn into each snippet of a curious conversation at each turn.
This kicks off a series of Jock McFadyen exhibitions planned for 2021, including at Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios, the Royal Academy, London and The Lowry in Salford.
With grateful thanks to Julie Boyne for this review.